Sunday, October 27, 2013

Les 5 Sens Restaurant, Avignon

We have been on a multi-year quest to find a good place to park in Avignon. For a long time, our go-to-spot was "Les Halles," a garage on top of the covered market where 40 vendors sell fresh produce, meat, fish, cheese and flowers in the heart of Avignon. I don't really like that garage because you have to wind through a maze of tiny streets to get there and parking spaces are super small.

Recently we discovered the Hotel Mercure parking garage with larger spaces right off the ring road that runs between the Rhone River and the old defensive walls of Avignon. There is a sign for the hotel and parking on the ring road near Saint-Bénezet Bridge, also known as the Pont d'Avignon, a medieval bridge that partially crosses the Rhone River.

Enter into Avignon through the arched gate near the bridge and you will see a sign for the parking garage. There is always lots of parking available, maybe because people think it's for the hotel, but trust me it's open to the public. Park and when you walk out of the garage, the first thing you see is Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral and the Palais des Papes, a very convenient place to park.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

We have seen most of the historical sites in Avignon and so when we go now, which is often, we go so Shirley can shop and we eat in nice restaurants. In addition to restaurants I find in the red Michelin Guide, I also read the France board on Chowhound, a food discussion website where readers ask and give recommendations on food and restaurants.

This summer, we dined at "Les 5 Sens," a restaurant I discovered on the Chowhound website. The restaurant is located near pricey boutiques on Rue Joseph Vernet near Place Crillon. It was a beautiful sunny day so diners were seated at tables on the cobblestone courtyard in front of the restaurant.

"Les 5 Sens" diners with restaurant to the rear

The restaurant is owned by Christelle Baucher who greets and serves guests and the chef Thierry Baucher who was born into a family of traiteurs, a catering business devoted to take-out food and banquet service in the Midi-Pyrénées.

"Les 5 Sens" Menu

As you know, we really like Michelin "Bib Gourmand" restaurants because of the great quality they provide for a modest price, three courses for 31 Euros or less. We didn't choose to eat at "Les 5 Sens" restaurant for that reason, in fact it is higher priced. We went because they offer a special three-course vegetarian menu for 39 Euros, one of the few times we have seen this option in Provence.

Shirley went with the vegetarian menu, happy to have a non-fish option and I chose the three-course Menu Carte Gourmande for 59 Euros. We selected a bottle of the 2012 Domaine de Bunan Côtes de Provence Rosé for our lunch.

2012 Domaine de Bunan Côtes de Provence Rosé

To start our meal, the chef sent out some pretty, chilled zucchini soup with a dollop of fresh cheese and grated parmesan.

Chilled zucchini soup with fresh cheese and grated parmesan cheese

The first course on the vegetarian menu was a chilled tomato basil soup with strawberry chunks, sliced radish, mozzarella mousse and chives.

Chilled tomato basil soup with strawberry, mozzarella mousse and chives

My first course was a Tarte fine with ratatouille, goat cheese, onion, radish, thinly sliced zucchini with grilled squid.

Tarte fine with grilled squid

Shirley's vegetarian plate included puréed carrots, endive roesti, quinoa risotto, tiny asparagus, onions and mushrooms, fingerling potatoes with sorrel sauce and zucchini and peas.

Vegetarian plate

The chef is from the Midi-Pyrénées and his cassoulet with sausage and beans was authentic and delicious. We rarely see cassoulet on menus in Provence so I was happy to find one of my favorite dishes on the menu. It was accompanied by a green salad.


One of our desserts was a café gourmand with a selection of tiny bite-sized desserts and cup of espresso.

Café gourmand

The other dessert was a chocolate finger with white chocolate mousse and lemon sorbet.

Chocolate finger with white chocolate mousse and lemon sorbet

We truly enjoyed our lunch at "Les 5 Sens." It is definitely a little more pricey than what we normally choose, but it was very good and a great change for Shirley from her normal fish fare.

A happy Shirley pauses for a picture after lunch

Les 5 Sens Restaurant
18 Rue Joseph Vernet
84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 90 85 26 51

Saturday, October 19, 2013

More Scenes of Russell Crowe's "A Good Year" Movie

I told you in my last post that "A Good Year" starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is my favorite movie set in the South of France.

It's based on a Peter Mayle novel and tells the story of Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) who inherits a rundown château and vineyard in the Luberon from Uncle Henry. I would have been thrilled, but Max just wants to sell the château fast and return to his life in London being a securities trader and miserable loner.

Instead, stuff happens and he stays around the old château and soon forgets how to be lonely and falls for a beautiful café owner by the name of Fanny Chenal played by the very pretty Marion Cotillard. I know it's not an Oscar winning movie but I love the setting in the Luberon.

Château la Canorgue, the château and vineyard that Max inherits is the main location for the movie. The winery is really owned by Jean-Pierre Margan, the winemaker, his wife, Martine, and their daughter, Nathalie and is located about 1 mile outside of the village of Bonnieux.

As I told you before, Château la Canorgue makes one of our favorite rosé wines and we had come to Bonnieux for lunch and buy wine at the Château. The view below from Château la Canorgue to Bonnieux and the Petit Luberon mountains is shown several times in the movie.

View toward Bonnieux from Château la Canorgue

Several scenes were filmed in front of the house at Château la Canorgue including a final scene with Max and Fanny on the terrace. If you look closely, you can see a small table and two chairs where you can imagine Max and Fanny enjoying wine from the Château and looking out over the vineyards.

The house at Château la Canorgue

You can see how this beautiful old house set among huge shade trees with a manicured garden and well tended vineyards could seduce a busy London banker like Max Skinner with dreams of life with Fanny.

Garden and vineyards at Château la Canorgue

After buying wine, we went to Cucuron, an 11th century walled village on the plains of the Durance River in Luberon Natural Park. Just beyond the village walls is an étang, a rectangular pool, whose origin dates from the beginning of the 14th century. The pool is lined along one side with café-restaurant terraces.

L'étang of Cucuron where Max and Fanny have their first date

We had come to l'étang where Max brought Fanny for an outdoor movie accompanied by live band music on their first date. It would have been almost impossible for Max and Fanny to not have a romantic evening with candle lights and lanterns flickering and the water of l'étang shimmering below the plane trees that stand like sentries around the pond.

L'étang of Cucuron

There is more to see in Cucuron than l'étang but that will have to wait for a future visit. If you are planning a trip to Provence, you should download the movie. The movie was largely shot on locations around the Luberon and the cinematography is wonderful. If you are on the fence about a trip to Provence, see the movie and you will be convinced. See you soon.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Al Fresco Lunch at Restaurant l'Arome in Bonnieux and a Walk-about the Village

I think I told you that one of my favorite movies is "A Good Year" starring Russell Crowe. In case you haven't seen the movie, Russell Crowe plays Max, a successful London banker who inherits a château after the death of Uncle Henry played by Albert Finney.

We have visited most of the sites where the movie was shot around the Luberon. The last time we went to Château La Canorgue, the site for the run down château and winery Max inherited near Bonnieux, they were sold out of their rosé which we like.

A few months back, we went to the Luberon to visit Cucuron and see the étang, a long pond in the center of the village where Max and Fanny Chenal, played by Marion Cotillard, have their first date. On the way, we went by Bonnieux to have lunch and buy rosé at nearby Château La Canorgue.

As we drove to Bonnieux, we came upon this beautiful field of coquelicots. "Naturellement," we stopped for pictures since coquelicots are Shirley's favorite flowers.

Cousin Matthias and Shirley in field of coquelicots near Rogne

Field of coquelicots near Rogne

Bonnieux sits on a steep Luberon hill overlooking a valley with a patchwork of vineyards, lavender fields and orchards. Nearby is Pont Julien, a beautiful Roman bridge and the Cedar Forest planted in 1862 with cedars from the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. Dating back to Roman times, village houses and shops cascade down the hill.


As I said, we had come to Bonnieux for lunch. We've found that restaurants designated "Bib Gourmand" by the infamous Michelin inspectors offer very good food for a moderate price. It is awarded to restaurants that offer a complete, three-course meal (starter, main course and dessert) for €31 or less.

So this day, we dined at L'Arome, a foodie favorite in Bonnieux designated a Bib Gourmand in the 2013 edition of "Bonne Petite Tables du Guide Michelin." Yes, I will admit it, I am a list man and I generally try to figure out what are likely to be the best restaurants in a village before we go.

Cousin Matthias and Shirley at L'Arome Restaurant

It was not a super warm day but warm enough that we chose to sit outside on the terrace where we could watch the activities around the restaurant. We all selected the three-course "Menu du Marché" for the aforementioned €31. Lucky for us, they had the Château La Canorgue rosé on their wine list.

Château La Canorgue rosé

To get our lunch started, the chef sent out a tasty "amuse bouche" of Velouté de fenouil (fennel soup) in a shot glass.

Velouté de fenouil

For starter, we all chose the Sweet Peppers and Sun-dried Tomato Mille-feuille with Honeyed Fresh Goat Cheese.

Sweet peppers and sun-dried tomato mille-feuille with honeyed fresh goat cheese

Our main courses included Sea Bass Fillet with Barigoule Sauce served over Saffron Bulgar with Zucchini and Almonds, and

Sea bass fillet with barigoule sauce served over saffron bulgar with zucchini and almonds

A Saddle of Rabbit with Tian of Provencal Vegetables.

A saddle of rabbit with tian of Provencal vegetables

The restaurant has a beautiful dining room carved it seems out of the stones.

Interior of l'Arome Restaurant

For dessert, our choices included Caramelized Apple Puree, Crispy Shortbread, and Manzana Apple Sorbet, and

Caramelized apple puree, crispy shortbread, and Manzana apple sorbet

Fresh Oranges in Jelly, Honey Ice Cream, and Cake with Candied Oranges.

Fresh oranges in jelly, honey ice cream, and cake with candied oranges

The cooking and service were very good and I would recommend L'Arome if you are looking for a great dining spot in Bonnieux. Having enjoyed a wonderful lunch, we wandered around Bonnieux before we went to Château La Canorgue to buy our rosé.

A view down the street toward the New Church in Bonneiux

Hotel Dieu (hospital from 1749 to 1948, today the Town Hall)

Water fountain

Part of the Defensive Fortifications of Bonnieux

Archway Through the Defensive Fortifications.

Stone Bell Tower on Top of Village House

Archway Through Defensive Fortifications of Bonnieux

Covered Passageway in Bonnieux

Cobblestone Street

A Café on Place de la Liberté

A road also winds back and forth up through the village, passing small squares with shops and cafés at different levels.

Winding Street Through Bonnieux

There are 86 steps up to the Old Church at the top of Bonnieux.

Cobblestone Steps Up to Old Church at Top of Village

Cobblestone Street

12th Century Old Church of Bonnieux

There is a great view over the valley towards Lacoste with its famous château which formerly belonged to the Marquis de Sade. Today the château belongs to Pierre Cardin, the famous stylist designer.

View Toward Lacoste

New Church of Bonnieuxx Built in 1870

There are some beautiful houses in Bonnieux that date back to the 16th century, and the village's relative opulence dates back to this period when several bishops lived in Bonnieux when this area belonged to the Popes.

Bonnieux Village House

The Clock and Bell Tower on a Bonnieux Building

Restaurant l'Arôme
2 Rue Lucien Blanc
84480 Bonnieux
Tel: 04 90 75 88 6